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Publication numberUS4768862 A
Publication typeGrant
Application numberUS 06/896,478
Publication dateSep 6, 1988
Filing dateAug 13, 1986
Priority dateAug 13, 1986
Fee statusPaid
Publication number06896478, 896478, US 4768862 A, US 4768862A, US-A-4768862, US4768862 A, US4768862A
InventorsRichard L. McAdams
Original AssigneeItt Corporation, Defense Communications Division
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Liquid crystal polarization reorientation cell having magnetic field-applying coils
US 4768862 A
Abstract
A liquid crystal polarization reorientation cell includes Helmholtz coils disposed on either side of the cell to provide a magnetic field that is substantially perpendicular to the transparent members. The energizing of the magnetic field is utilized to selectively reorient the polarization of at least one frequency of an incident light beam.
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Claims(8)
What is claimed is:
1. A liquid crystal polarization reorientation cell comprising:
first and second transparent members, each of said members having an outer surface;
a layer of liquid crystal material disposed between said first and second members;
a first electrically conductive coil disposed on said outer surface of said first transparent member for providing a magnetic field in said liquid crystal material layer, said coil having turns, the external perimeter of said turns increasing with the distance from said outer surface; and
means connected to said electrically conductive coil for controlling the magnetic field.
2. Cell as claimed in claim 1 wherein said magnetic field providing means further includes:
a second electrically conductive coil, said second coil being disposed on an outer surface of said second transparent member and coaxial with said first electrically conductive coil.
3. Cell as claimed in claim 2 wherein said first and said second coils are disposed substantially coaxial with the path of an incident light beam.
4. Cell as claimed in claim 1 wherein said magnetic field controlling means is a controllable current source.
5. Cell as claimed in claim 4 wherein said current source is a pulsed current source.
6. A liquid crystal polarization reorientation cell comprising:
first and second transparent members;
a layer of liquid crystal material disposed between said first and second members;
a first electrically conductive coil disposed in said first transparent member for providing a magnetic field in said liquid crystal material layer, said coil being a Helmholtz coil; and
means connected to said electrically conductive coil for controlling the magnetic field.
7. Cell as claimed in claim 6 which further comprises:
a second electrically conductive coil, said second coil being disposed within said second transparent member and coaxial with said first coil.
8. Cell as claimed in claim 7 wherein said first and second electrically conductive coils are disposed substantially coaxial with the path of an incident light beam.
Description
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The present invention generally relates to a liquid crystal polarization reorientation cell and, in particular, relates to one such cell having means for establishing a magnetic field in the liquid crystal material.

The use of optical fibers as a telecommunication media has numerous advantages compared to currently used telecommunication media. For example, optical fibers can carry a broader bandwidth signal, and hence can convey larger quantities of information over the same period of time than existing media.

Further, light waves are shorter than conventional microwaves commonly used in existing telecommunication systems, and thus, a substantial reduction in the physical size of components is achievable. Such a reduction in size further results in a cost reduction for materials, packaging, and manufacturing. Still further, optical fibers exhibit little or no electromagnetic or radio-frequency interference, thus resulting in a negligible impact on the surrounding environment. In addition, optical fibers are relatively insensitive to electromagnetic or radio-frequency interference from surrounding devices and systems.

To be viable, every telecommunication system must include some means for controllably redirecting a signal, or at least a portion thereof, to, or from, a transmission media or between one, or more, such mediums. In the case of an optical telecommunication system, the preferred means is an optical switch. Currently optical switches are generally mechanical in nature.

However, mechanical switches generally require relatively high driving power and are subject to wear, abrasion and fatigue. As a result, mechanical switches are also prone to failure after repeated use. In addition, since a rather small optical fiber is usually displaced from alignment with one port fiber into alignment with another port fiber, mechanical switches can readily become expensive due primarily to the very small tolerances required to ensure the proper alignment between the various fibers thereof.

Liquid crystal optical switching devices have been proposed as one alternative to mechanical switches. Typical of early designs of such liquid crystal optical switches are those described and discussed in U.S. Pat. No. 4,201,422 issued to McMahon et al. on May 6, 1980, U.S. Pat. No. 4,278,327 issued to McMahon et al. on July 14, 1981 and U.S. Pat. No. 4,385,799 issued to Soref on May 31, 1983. Therein, plurality of liquid crystal switches are described wherein optical fibers are attached to the side angled surfaces of a pair of opposing trapezoidal prisms. The trapezoidal prisms are arranged with the major bases thereof parallel and liquid crystal material is disposed therebetween.

Although the optical switches described in these patents have some advantages over mechanical switches, particularly no moving parts, such liquid crystal switches are both difficult and expensive to manufacture since all of the surfaces of the trapezoidal prisms must not only be optically flat, but also be fixed at a precise angular relation to each other. Consequently, the liquid crystal optical switch designs described in these patents are presently impractical for optical communication systems, that frequently require hundreds, if not thousands, of optical switches.

More recently, less expensive more easily manufactured liquid crystal switches have been developed. For example, those described and discussed in U.S. Ser. Nos. 795,138; 795,148, 4,749,258, 795,149, 4,711,529, abandoned 795,150, 795,151, 4,737,019, 795,152, 4,720,174, 795,154; 795,155, 4,720,171, 795,156, 4,720,172, 795,157, 795,296 all filed Nov. 5, 1985 and assigned to the assignee hereof. The designs described therein overcome many of the difficulties present in the earlier designs, and thus, serve as a basis for the relatively inexpensive manufacture of liquid crystal optical switches.

However, to date substantially all of the liquid crystal switch designs have included one, or more, electrodes to establish an electromagnetic field in, or across, the liquid crystal material to effect the switching or beam splitting functions thereof.

The electrodes, in general, are manufactured thin enough that they are transparent to the light incident upon the switching device. Typically, such electrodes include a thin transparent layer of Indium Tin Oxide. However, the index of refraction of such a conductive material is on the order of about 1.9 whereas the index of refraction of typical nematic liquid crystal materials is on the order of about 1.6. Such a mismatch can result in severe reflections at the interface therebetween, thereby reducing the efficienty of the light transferred due to spurious reflections and other deleterious effects.

Such a mismatch between adjacent materials can be substantially overcome by implementing techniques described in the above referenced U.S. patent application Ser. No. 795,150 filed on Nov. 5, 1985 and entitled LIQUID CRYSTAL CELL FOR USE IN AN OPTICAL SWITCH.

As described therein, intermediate layers having a gradient index of refraction can be formed between the electrode and the liquid crystal material and, in addition, between the transparent member, i.e. glass that also usually has index of refraction of about 1.6, and the ITO electrodes. Although this technique can be implemented inexpensively, and low lost devices can be fabricated, this technique can be a time consuming process during the manufacture of such devices. Further, care must be taken to avoid impurities in the compensatory layers.

Consequently, a liquid crystal device that can avoid the need to compensate for such general reflection, as well as for localized impurities, but effect the desired switch is desirable to more readily derive the benefits of optical fiber signalling systems.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Accordingly, it is one object of the present invention to provide a liquid crystal polarization reorientation cell that avoids the use of electrodes and other mismatch generating or reflection generating layers.

This object is achieved, at least in part, by a liquid crystal polarization reorientation cell including means for establishing a magnetic field in the liquid crystal material.

Other objects and advantages of the present invention will become apparent to those skilled in the art from the following detailed description read in conjunction with the appended claims and the drawings attached hereto.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWING

The drawing, not drawn to scale, includes:

FIG. 1--a cross-sectional view of a liquid crystal polarization reorientation cell embodying the principles of the present invention;

FIG. 2--a top view of another liquid crystal polarization reorientation cell also embodying the principles of the present invention; and

FIG. 3A and 3B--schematic views of liquid crystal molecular alignments in different operating states of the cells depicted in FIGS. 1 and 2.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

A liquid crystal polarization reorientation cell, generally indicated at 10 in FIG. 1 and embodying the principles of the present invention, includes a layer 12 of liquid crystal material disposed between first and second transparent members, 14 and 16, respectively, and means 18 for establishing a magnetic field in the layer 12 of liquid crystal material. Preferably, the liquid crystal polarization reorientation cell 10 further includes means 20 for controlling the magnetic field.

In one preferred embodiment, the layer 12 of liquid crystal material is a nematic liquid crystal, although other types of liquid crystal material may also be employed. In this embodiment, each of the first and second transparent members, 14 and 16, respectively, includes an inner surface 22 and an outer surface 24. In such an embodiment the liquid crystal material is preferably disposed between the inner surfaces 22 of the transparent members, 14 and 16.

In one particular embodiment, the means 20 for establishing a magnetic field includes a first coil 26 of electrically conductive material having a first means 28 associated therewith for controllably regulating an electric current therethrough. Preferably, the coil 26 has an axis that is substantially perpendicular to the inner surface 22 of the member 14. As well known a coil of wire having an electric current sustained therein produces a magnetic field that is axially oriented with respect to the coil. Thus, in this embodiment, the magnetic field created is substantially perpendicular to the inner surfaces 22 of the first and second transparent members 14 and 16, respectively.

Further, in the preferred embodiment, the cell 10, also includes a second coil 30 of conductive material, having a second means 32 associated therewith for regulating the current therethrough. In this embodiment, the first and second coils, 26 and 30, respectively, are disposed on the outer surface 24 of the first and second transparent members, 14 and 16, respectively, and substantially axially aligned with each other.

Further, the first and second coils, 26 and 30, respectively, are formed such that the radii thereof are equal to the perpendicular distance therebetween. Hence, in order to maintain this relationship the coils, 26 and 30, are preferably formed such that the external perimeter thereof increases with the distance separating the corresponding coils, 26 and 30, across the cell 10.

Such a coil arrangement is generally known in the art as a Helmholtz coil and produces a substantially uniform axial magnetic field B in accordance with the following equation: ##EQU1## wherein: B is the magnetic field strength;

γ is the permeability of the core of the coil, in this instance air;

N is the number of turns associated with each coil;

I is the current flowing through the coils; and

R is the radius of the coils.

In one particular polarization reorientation cell 10 the layer 12 of liquid crystal material has a thickness on the order of about 10 micrometers and the first and second transparent members 14 and 16, respectively, are glass, having a thickness on the order of about 1 millimeter. In such a cell 10, the anticipated magnetic field strength `B` required to effect the polarization reorientation is on the order of about 1.5 tesla for a coil having an average radius of about 1 millimeter and an Ni (amp-turns) factor of about 1500 amp-turns. Although this number of amp-turns may appear impractically high, the current may, in fact, be pulsed to reduce the average current needed since liquid crystals relax rather slowly. Thus, the frequency of the current need only be greater than the relative relaxation time of the liquid crystal molecules. The specific ratios and choices for the current, the number of turns, and the duty cycle can be adjusted to suit the particular cell being designed.

With reference to FIG. 2, another liquid crystal polarization reorientation cell 34 is shown wherein the coils 26 and 30, associated with the transparent members, 14 and 16, are embedded therein. In such an instance the coils, 26 and 30, can be made considerably smaller since the two associated Helmholtz coils are closer together. As a result, the design choices of current, turns and duty cycles may be different from those selected for the cell 10 shown in FIG. 1.

In actuality, since many plastic materials are available, the second cell 34 may be more practical if manufactured with the use of a molded plastic. For example, the coils 26 and 30, may be preformed and subsequently embedded within the plastic material during the plastic molding process. Alternatively, in such an embodiment, only a single coil, 26 or 30, may be used to provide the desired magnetic field.

In operation, as shown in FIGS. 3A and 3B, a plane polarized incident light beam `L` impinges on the polarization reorientation cell, 10 or 34, coaxial with the axis of the coils, 26 and 30. The molecular alignment of the layer 12 of liquid crystal material, in a deenergized state, i.e. where little or no current is flowing in the coils, is oriented in a twisted nematic fashion such as shown in FIG. 3A. Therein the inner surfaces 22 of the transparent members, 14 and 16, are preferably scratched, or otherwise grooved to induce the molecules of the liquid crystal material to be rotated 90 with respect to the inner surface 22 of the opposing transparent members, 14 and 16. Under such conditions, the polarized light beam `L` incident normal to the cell, 10 or 34, has the polarization thereof rotated 90 as it traverses the cell, 10 or 34. That is, a TE polarized light beam exits the cell, 10 or 34, as a TM polarized light beam and vice versa.

In an energized state i.e. when the magnetic field `B` is impressed on the liquid crystal polarization reorientation cell, 10 or 34, the molecules align themselves homeotropically, i.e. substantially parallel to each other and perpendicular to the inner surfaces 22 of the transparent members, 14 and 16. Consequently, light traversing the cell 10 or 34, has the polarization thereof unchanged.

Although the above discussion has been with respect to a commonly known twisted nematic liquid crystal configuration, a similar operation is available when a Pi cell is used. The basic operation of a Pi cell, is discussed hereinafter. As well known if a liquid crystal material is provided with a particular thickness that is a multiple of Pi times the frequency of a light beam component, that light beam component is retarded with respect to the remaining frequency components of the incident light beam, when the liquid crystal molecules lie parallel to the plane of the incident light beam. That is, by orienting the liquid crystal material in a homogenous fashion, a light beam of a particular frequency can be retarded over the thickness of the cell, 10 or 34, such that the apparent result is a polarization change.

One particular design of a Pi cell is more fully described and discussed in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 795,154 filed on Nov. 5, 1985. This application is assigned to the assignee hereof and incorporated herein by reference.

In the instance of the Pi cell, the original deenergized alignment of the molecules is preferably at 45 with respect to the electric field vector of the incident polarized light beam of the frequency whereat polarization reorientation is to occur. PG,11

Although the present invention has been described with respect to particular embodiments other arrangements and configurations may also be developed that, nevertheless, do not depart from the spirit and scope of the present invention. Hence, the present invention is deemed limited only by the appended claims and the reasonable interpretation thereof.

Patent Citations
Cited PatentFiling datePublication dateApplicantTitle
US4066334 *Jan 5, 1976Jan 3, 1978National Research Development CorporationLiquid crystal light deflector
US4214819 *Oct 27, 1978Jul 29, 1980Merck Patent Gesellschaft Mit Beschrankter HaftungElectro-optical modulator
US4711529 *Nov 5, 1985Dec 8, 1987Itt Defense Communications, A Division Of Itt CorporationOptical interface apparatus
US4720171 *Nov 5, 1985Jan 19, 1988Itt Defense Communications, A Division Of Itt CorporationLiquid crystal optical switching device having reduced crosstalk
US4720172 *Nov 5, 1985Jan 19, 1988Itt Defense Communications, A Division Of Itt CorporationLiquid crystal optical switching device
US4720174 *Nov 5, 1985Jan 19, 1988Itt Defense Communications, A Division Of Itt CorporationLiquid crystal optical switching device with integrally attached optical fibers
US4737019 *Nov 5, 1985Apr 12, 1988Itt Defense Communications, A Division Of Itt CorporationLiquid crystal optical switching device having minimized internal light path
Non-Patent Citations
Reference
1Chen et al., "Observation of Macroscopic Collective Behavior and New Texture in Magnetically Doped Liquid Crystals," vol. 51, No. 25 of Physical Rev. Lett. (Dec. 1983) pp. 2298-2301.
2 *Chen et al., Observation of Macroscopic Collective Behavior and New Texture in Magnetically Doped Liquid Crystals, vol. 51, No. 25 of Physical Rev. Lett. (Dec. 1983) pp. 2298 2301.
Referenced by
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US6647771 *Aug 10, 2001Nov 18, 2003Mlhd, Inc.External pressure display for vehicle tires
US7071686Sep 29, 2003Jul 4, 2006Mlho, Inc.Magnetic liquid crystal display
US8184218 *Jun 22, 2009May 22, 2012Lensvector Inc.Optically hidden electromagnetic source for generation of spatially non uniform magnetic field and tunable devices made thereof
US20020101339 *Aug 10, 2001Aug 1, 2002Burns Alan AlexanderExternal pressure display for vehicle tires
US20100007807 *Jun 22, 2009Jan 14, 2010Lensvector Inc.Optically hidden electromagnetic source for generation of spatially non uniform magnetic field and tunable devices made thereof
Classifications
U.S. Classification349/23
International ClassificationG02F1/137, G02F1/13
Cooperative ClassificationG02F1/13768, G02F1/1313
European ClassificationG02F1/13F, G02F1/137M
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Aug 13, 1986ASAssignment
Owner name: ITT CORPORATION, 320 PARK AVENUE, NEW YORK, N.Y. 1
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST.;ASSIGNOR:MC ADAMS, RICHARD L.;REEL/FRAME:004591/0822
Effective date: 19860812
Mar 2, 1992FPAYFee payment
Year of fee payment: 4
Mar 5, 1996FPAYFee payment
Year of fee payment: 8
Mar 3, 2000FPAYFee payment
Year of fee payment: 12